08.02.2010 01:00 PM
Boucher Advocates Non-Exclusivity But Not Net Neutrality Comcast-NBCU Merger
WASHINGTON: The chairman of the House Communications Subcommittee told regulators today to impose program-access conditions, but not network neutrality, on the proposed Comcast-NBCU merger. Rep. Rick Boucher, (D-Va.) urged Christine Varney of the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission chief Julius Genachowski to OK the deal as long as online exclusivity and restricted access to sports programming is prohibited.
“If Comcast.... acquires the distribution rights for any high-value sporting
events, including NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and NCAA games and PGA golf events, that
were, immediately prior to Comcast’s acquisition of such rights, distributed
via over-the-air broadcasting, the combined company should not distribute such
programming exclusively on its pay cable networks or diminish the over-the-air
distribution... as to effectively deprive the public of free access to such
events,” Boucher wrote to the regulators.
Boucher also said NBC shows should be made available for free after airing at NBC.com, and “not be permitted to
migrate exclusively to TV Everywhere or exclusively to any other online program
TV Everywhere is an authentication-based system by which only Comcast cable
subscribers would have online access to Comcast-owned programming. Few deals
have included such exclusivity, Multichannel’s
Mike Farrell reports.
Comcast’s 10-year retransmission agreement included no specifics about online
exclusivity, just this: “Comcast will have greatly expanded on-demand access to
CBS and Showtime content via their cable and online platforms.”
Boucher urged regulators to assure that all of Comcast’s owned programming be
made available to competitors, and that it be prohibited from imposing
exclusive carriage conditions on content it does not own.
“This prohibition should apply when an exclusive agreement could potentially
restrict the availability of the unaffiliated programming on the platforms of
other multichannel video programming distributors or on other online
platforms,” Boucher wrote.
He also advocated to extend non-exclusivity to peripheral devices such as
Boxee, a set-top that streams online content to TVs. When it came to network
neutrality, however, Boucher said hold off. Network neutrality is the principle
by which broadband providers cannot interfere with traffic on their networks. The
FCC attempted to impose network neutrality on Comcast after it was discovered
throttling peer-to-peer traffic in 2007. A federal court ruled against the FCC
“Discussions focused on the potential for passing legislation to assure
Internet openness are under way,” Boucher said. “If those discussions are
successful, Congress will take up legislation that will apply a uniform set of
network openness principles to all broadband providers... accordingly, I urge
that the department [and the commission] not impose any conditions on its
approval of the Comcast-NBC Universal combination regarding network openness.”
The commission has 115 days to consider Comcast’s proposed $8 billion acquisition
of 51 percent of NBCU, according to a shot-clock set up for the process. It
has, however, been stopped twice as the commission sought further information
from both parties.
-- Deborah D. McAdams